(SNHU Arena, Manchester, NH)
No. 1 Denver Pioneers vs. No. 4 Cornell Big Red
No. 2 Boston University Terriers vs. No. 3 Western Michigan Broncos
Kicking off the NCAA Tournament on Thursday, 3/23, will feature a matchup between Boston University (27-10-0) and Western Michigan (23-14-1).
Boston University returns to the NCAA Tournament after missing out last season. The Terriers are entering the tournament on a high, winning seven straight games to close out their season. The No. 1 seed in the Hockey East Conference bracket, the Terriers made a clean sweep of the tournament, beating Vermont, Providence, and Merrimack en route to their eighth tournament title win. Freshman defenseman Lane Hutson is the team's leading scorer, amassing 47 points so far this season while earning the Hockey East Rookie of the Year award and a Hobey Baker Finalist selection.
Coach Pat Ferschweiler will lead Western Michigan into the tournament for the second season in a row, with the team hoping to make it out of their region this time around. Post the new year, the Broncos closed out their regular season with an 11-3-0 record but were upset in the quarterfinals of the NCHC Tournament, losing two tight games to the No. 7-seeded Colorado College Tigers. The Broncos will look to lean on their top forward line of Ryan McAllister, Max Sasson, and Jason Polin, with all three players tallying 40+ points this season and ranking within the top 12 of the nation's points leaders. A senior and team captain, Polin is the nation's leading goal-scorer with 29 goals and is another Hobey Baker finalist.
The defending national champion Denver Pioneers (30-9-0) will look to preserve their champion status starting with a round one matchup against Cornell (20-10-2). Coming into the tournament, the Pioneers won 10 of their last 12 games, losing 1-0 to Colorado College in the semifinal round of the NCHC Tournament. Despite the loss, the Pioneers maintained a top-4 Pairwise ranking and the No. 1 seed in the region off their impressive 30-win season.
While the roster does not feature a Hobey Baker finalist, it still includes a plethora of high-end talent, with five players tallying 30 or more points and one player in Massimo Rizzo currently sitting with 46 points on the season.
Cornell squeaked into the tournament with their No. 13 ranking in the final Pairwise poll, beating Clarkson in the quarterfinal round of the ECAC Tournament before losing 1-0 in overtime to Harvard in the semifinals. Since the new year, the Big Red has gone 12-5-1, with likely their biggest win of the season being a 4-0 shutout of Quinnipiac on 1/20, the No. 1 seed in the Bridgeport region.
While the team may lack the household names and NHL draft picks, they make up for it in depth and strong defensive play, recording one of the lowest goals-against averages (2.00) in the entire field with only 64 goals allowed all season.
Grant Cruikshank led St. Cloud State in goals with 22 so far during the 2022-2023 season.
(Scheels Arena, Fargo, ND)
No. 1 Minnesota Gophers vs. No. 4 Canisius Golden Griffins
No. 2 St. Cloud State Huskies vs. No. 3 Minnesota State Mavericks
The other games to take place on Thursday, 3/23, will be in the Fargo Regional, with the early game being between the No. 2 seed St. Cloud State (24-12-3) and No. 3 seed Minnesota State (25-12-1).
This matchup includes the only first-round contest where the two teams played each other during the regular season, a series that saw St. Cloud sweep the Mavericks by scores of 4-3 and 3-2. In 2023, St. Cloud closed out its regular season with a middling 7-8-3 record. Still, the team finished strong, beating Minnesota Duluth, North Dakota, and Colorado College on the way to their second NCHC Tournament victory in the school's history.
While they remain without top defenseman Dylan Anhorn due to an injury, the roster still includes several standout upperclassmen in Jami Krannila, Zach Okabe, Grant Cruikshank, and Veeti Miettinen, who can utilize their vast experience for playoff success.
For the Mavericks, a rough first half of the season in 2022 (10 losses in 22 games) was followed by an outstanding second half in 2023 (3 losses in 18 games), culminating in a clean sweep of their three opponents in the CCHA Tournament. This remarkable run of form led to a big jump in the standings, closing out the final Pairwise ranking in the No. 11 spot after sitting in the 20s for most of the season.
This will mark their sixth-straight NCAA Tournament appearance, with the team making it to the national title game last season but losing to Denver 5-1. Without the 2022 Hobey Baker winner Dryden McKay in net this season, the team has mainly relied on sophomore Keenan Rancier, who has more than held his own, putting up a 1.81 GAA and .916 SV% in 29 starts.
Although they did not claim the Big Ten Tournament championship, it has still been a season for the record books for the No. 1 overall Minnesota Gophers (26-9-1). Waltzing to the Big Ten regular-season title by a margin of 19 points, the Gophers have gone 17-4-1 since December 1st, beating fellow NCAA Tournament entrants St. Cloud State, Michigan, Penn State, and Ohio State in that span.
It is hard to pinpoint the key strength on a team that is strong in so many areas, with extremely consistent goaltender play from Justen Close, depth on the blue line that includes six NHL draft picks, or a top forward line of Logan Cooley, Jimmy Snuggerud and Matthew Knies that combined has 142 points this season. Cooley and Knies have both earned Hobey Baker finalist selections. This team has all the pieces in place to make a back-to-back Frozen Four appearance and win the tournament.
The lowest-ranked Pairwise team in the tournament field is Canisius (20-18-3), who ranks No. 41 but earned an automatic bid off their Atlantic Hockey Tournament victory. The No. 4 seed in their conference tournament, the Golden Griffins won a series against both Army and Niagara in the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds before beating Holy Cross 3-0 in the title game.
It will be the first time the Golden Griffins have made a tournament appearance since the 2012-13 season, where they bowed out of the tournament in game one. All three leading scorers on the team are seniors, and with an average roster age that is two years older than the Gophers, Canisius will look to utilize their experience in their round one upset bid.
Matthew Knies has 21 goals and 41 points for top-ranked Minnesota this season.
(Total Mortgage Arena, Bridgeport, CT)
No. 1 Quinnipiac Bobcats vs. No. 4 Merrimack Warriors
No. 2 Harvard Crimson vs. No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes
The Bridgeport Regional will kick off on Friday, 3/24, with the No. 2 seed Harvard Crimson taking on the No. 3 seed Ohio State Buckeyes at 1:00 PM CT.
Heading into the ECAC Tournament on a seven-game unbeaten streak, Harvard made light work of their quarterfinal opponent Princeton, sweeping the series with two 6-1 victories before narrowly bypassing Cornell in the semifinals by a 1-0 overtime win. The Crimson then lost a close 3-2 game to Colgate in the conference title game, but had more than secured their NCAA tournament placement with a final No. 7 Pairwise Ranking. Boasting the highest number of NHL draft picks on one team with 15, Harvard will look to utilize their high-end skill led by junior forward and Hobey Baker finalist Sean Farrell, who leads the team with 52 points.
Ohio State (20-15-3) returns to the tournament after two seasons of not attending, with the Buckeyes earning their placement with a No. 9 Pairwise ranking. Down the stretch, the team's form has struggled a bit, winning only three of their last 10 games and their conference tournament culminating in a 7-3 loss to Michigan in the semifinal round. However, the Buckeyes were no easy out against the top Big Ten competition this season, skating to wins against Minnesota, Michigan (twice), and Penn State (four times).
Freshman standout Stephen Halliday leads the team with 40 points, and sophomore Mason Lohrei leads the charge for the defense with 29 points, with a key strength of the team being special teams, featuring the No. 1 ranked penalty kill and most shorthanded goals (10) scored in the country.
The No. 1 seed in the region and No. 2-ranked team in the Pairwise rankings will open against the No. 4 seed Merrimack (23-13-1), who earned the last at-large bid with a No. 14 Pairwise ranking.
Being one of only two teams in the tournament field to hit 30 wins this season, Quinnipiac is no stranger to winning, but has their weaker strength of schedule in the ECAC thoroughly prepared them for the competition? It will be the fourth straight season that Coach Rand Pecknold has brought the Bobcats to the tournament, who enter on a hot streak after winning 12 of their last 13 games.
The team statistics are all there, with the lowest goals allowed average in the country at 1.59 and the fourth-best scoring offense with a 3.92 goals-per-game average. Leading the forward group is sophomore Collin Graf, whose team-leading 20 goals and 55 points this season have led to a spot on the list of Hobey Baker finalists.
Entering the Hockey East Tournament as the 2-seed, Merrimack beat Boston College and UMass-Lowell in overtime in the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds before losing 3-2 in overtime to Boston University in the title game.
In October, assistant coach Josh Ciocco tragically passed away. The team showcased their resiliency post that tragedy, winning 14 of their first 19 games and reaching the top of the conference standings by the midway point of the season. That willpower to play for their coach resulted in their first 20+ win season since 2010-11, the year the Warriors last earned a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Junior forward Alex Jefferies leads the team with 41 points, which placed him third highest in the entire Hockey East conference.
Michigan Tech's Kyle Kukkonen was named CCHA Rookie of the Year earlier this month.
(PPL Center, Allentown, PA)
No. 1 Michigan Wolverines vs. No. 4 Colgate Raiders
No. 2 Penn State Nittany Lions vs. No. 3 Michigan Tech Huskies
The final region to start on Friday will be Allentown, where the No. 2 seed Penn State (21-15-1) will hope their home crowd advantage will power them past No. 3 Michigan Tech (24-10-4) in round one.
It was a tale of two seasons for the Nittany Lions, with a pre-2023 record of 17-5-0 followed by a 4-10-1 record post the new year. Bowing out of the Big Ten Tournament in the quarterfinals against Ohio State, the team did not play last weekend and had to bank on the strength of their first-half play and No. 8 ranking in the Pairwise to secure their spot in the tournament.
The team will likely have to rely on their upperclassmen experience if they want to succeed. Their top-4 leading scorers are all seniors, including Kevin Wall, Ture Linden, Connor MacEachern, and Connor McMenamin.
Michigan Tech has had a strong all-around season, posting the best non-league record of any CCHA team while also sitting atop the conference standings for the majority of the year. Losing only three games in the regular season to start 2023, Michigan Tech was surpassed in the CCHA standings by Minnesota State in the final game of the regular season, leading to a No. 2 conference tournament ranking.
The team swept St. Thomas in the quarterfinal round before being shut out by Northern Michigan in the semifinals, a surprising result after the Huskies won three of four games against the Wildcats during the regular season. Hobey Baker finalist Blake Pietila leads the team in net, with his 1.99 GAA and .929 SV% numbers playing a huge factor in the team's No. 4 ranked scoring defense in the country. Up front, the Huskies will count on Blake's twin brother Logan Pietila, plus Ryland Mosely and Kyle Kukkonen, for their scoring punch.
The final round one game to commence will feature the No. 1 seed Michigan Wolverines (24-11-3) against the No. 4 seed Colgate Raiders, with both teams entering the tournament after winning their respective conference tournaments. With a roster featuring 12 NHL draft picks, including four first-round draft picks (with potentially two more to join that group in the upcoming 2023 draft), there is a ton of talent for the Wolverines.
Ending the season on a 13-4-2 run, Michigan entered the Big Ten tournament in the No. 2 spot, beating Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Minnesota in a close 4-3 battle in the championship game. First-year coach Brandon Naurato has utilized his breadth of high-end talent to lead Michigan to their fifth straight NCAA tournament, with the hopes that freshman standout Adam Fantilli and sophomore defenseman Luke Hughes can bring them to a second consecutive Frozen Four.
Rounding out the field is Colgate, a No. 25 Pairwise team whose impressive run through the ECAC Tournament as the No. 5 seed earned them an automatic bid.
The Raiders' arduous path started with a round one win over Dartmouth, a round two win against St. Lawrence, and a 2-1 overtime upset win against the No. 1 seed Quinnipiac in the semifinals before beating Harvard 3-2 in the title game, earning their first ECAC championship trophy since the 1989-90 season.
Compared to Michigan's 12 NHL draft picks, the Raiders' roster only features two in junior forward Alex Young and goaltender Carter Gylander, with Young leading the team with 39 points.
Logan Pietila has 11 goals and 22 points for Michigan Tech this season.